Blog #20: My Last Book Talk

My original plan for this blog post was to do dedicate it to reflection, but I have done enough of that in our final assignments, so I want to end my required blog posts with one more book talk.

A few months ago, Kelly book talked This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp. I’ve never read a book about a school shooting, and her book talk immediately sparked my interest, soI penciled it in in my never-ending list of books I want to read. A few weeks ago, I spotted it in the “Best Seller” section at Walmart. I complain about buying a gallon of milk but don’t think twice about buying a book. Who needs luxuries like heat, hot showers, and food when you have stacks of books? That was a joke, but I really should limit my book spending money… Anyway, I obviously bought the book.

Instead of getting a head start last week on final papers due this week, I convinced myself to read the entire book in a little over a day. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the wisest decision I’ve made, but I couldn’t put the book down. I was locked into the story and absolutely had to find out if everyone survived. The book follows a group of students that go to Opportunity High over the time of less than an hour while there is an active shooter in the school. Tyler, a dropout, interrupts a school-wide assembly with a gun in hand. Readers get the perspective of Tyler’s sister Autumn, Autumn’s girlfriend Sylvia, Sylvia’s brother Tomas, and Tyler’s ex-girlfriend Claire as they try to survive Tyler’s violent anger. It wasn’t the best-written story I’ve read, but the story had me locked in the entire time I was reading. The characters are also diverse in their background as well as their, and I think that would make it especially beneficial in the classroom. If you have a day to kill, I would definitely recommend this book!

Blog #19: The Genius of Penny Kittle

If I could do this class over again, I would force myself to spend more time reading professional development books. I just got too swept up in YA novels! Anyway, this week, among a million other assignments, I finished Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them. If I talked about everything I loved from this book, my blog post would be longer than her book, so I’ll choose a few of my favorites.

One of my favorite ideas from this book is parent book talks.  She has parents come into her classroom and give brief book talks for her students. Talking about one of her student’s fathers, Kittle said, “He is one of the most successful businessmen in town and I seized the opportunity. When Steve came to present his favorite books that morning in his business suit, my students listened” (71). Adults (non-teachers) giving book talks to students shows them that reading isn’t just something people do in school.

I also loved her section on balancing writing about literature and writing about life. This is something I’ve wondered about, so I’m glad Kittle discussed it in her book. Literary criticism makes students great critical thinkers, but it won’t be as meaningful to them as writing from personal experience. She also points out that students are much more active in their revision when their topic is meaningful, so which is better? Kittle says a balance is necessary. How the time is split up? She says that is up to what is necessary in your classroom as long as neither has 100% of the time (153).

Her last chapter was especially touching. She discusses a sudden death of a colleague and how her students used their writing to cope. One student even asked her for help in delivering a few words at the funeral. I’m going to end my blog with the ending of her book because I found it especially beautiful.

“What is writing for? What do we teach and why? It can’t only be for next year – or college – or the April test. Sometimes it is for now: a path through dark days. We teach life writing, not school writing, life writing in all its complexities: the tools for the tasks we can’t anticipate. It it about this day – this lesson – what students can reach for that will matter – for the lives stretched out before them peppered with joy and loss.” (236)

Writing is life, and that is why and how it should be taught in the classroom. It is not something we have to do; it is something we need to do.

Blog #18: Graphic Novels for “Non-Readers”

For anyone who read my blog a few months ago about convincing my boyfriend to read with me, this post may be a little repetitive. After I finished my last critical response for my Shakespeare class last night, I decided my brain had had enough homework for the day. However, I was dying to dig back into This is Where It Ends, so I asked Tyler (my boyfriend) if he would read with me. At first he said, “I’ve done a lot of reading for class today, so I think I’m good.” After noticing the sass in my response, he said, “Fine. What graphic novels do you have? I’ll just start one of those.” I let a friend borrow My Friend Dahmer, so he chose Stitches by David Small instead. He wanted to choose a book I haven’t read yet.

Every time he reads with me, he proves what a reader he actually is. I sat down on the couch with my book and he with his. The last time he read with me, he read for about twenty minutes. I didn’t see what time we started reading, but Tyler was nose deep in the book for about forty-five minutes and was silent from the time he started the graphic novel to the time he finished it. He even gave me a brief book talk afterwards and told me how much he liked it. Tyler is the type of student who will avoid assigned reading as much as possible and chooses SparkNotes over actual books. I asked him if he remembered the last time he finished a book, and he couldn’t.

Last night really showed me how graphic novels can be an excellent gateway for students who don’t think they’re readers. It really amazed me that Tyler, who hasn’t finished a book since high school or middle school, chose to finish this graphic novel in one sitting. Every time we read together, Tyler proves everything we’ve been learning in Dr. Ellington’s class is true. He could have played games on his phone while I was reading or gone back to his house, but he chose to finish the story, and I think that’s incredible.


He immediately realized I was trying to take a photo of him, and five minutes later, I was able to get him to look “natural” for this picture.


Blog #17: Fahrenheit 451

On Tuesday Regan offered up the graphic novel version of Fahrenheit 451  to anyone who wanted to borrow it. Whether people had too many books or had too much other homework, there weren’t any takers. I read the original classic my sophomore year of high school, and I honestly didn’t remember much of it other than the basic concept of firemen burning books. I also remember having to get into groups and then videotape ourselves acting out a scene. My group did the scene at the end with the people sitting around the campfire, but that’s not too relevant to this blog or my reading of it for that matter. I’m not sure why I didn’t remember more because I really enjoyed reading the story this time around. The graphic novel followed the original closely (as far as I can tell), and I thought it was really powerful. People go to great lengths to keep books or to remember their stories. For the few who weren’t forced to read the original novel in high school, it follows Guy Montag, a book-burning firefighter, as he begins to question his career and becomes curious about what is in the books he is burning. If you’re curious about the story but don’t want to read the original, I would definitely suggest reading the graphic novel version.

This was my first experience reading a graphic novel adaptation of another novel. It seemed odd to me that I was able to read this whole book in one sitting (other than the ten minutes we got in class). In high school, we spent weeks if not months on this novel, getting tested on our remembrance of each chapter. Ironically enough, I didn’t remember much after we finished the novel.

While reading this, I was thinking about possible benefits of using this in the classroom instead of the original novel, and I think it all depends on what your goal is in teaching it. If you are supposed to teach a classic but don’t want to spend much time on it, I think a graphic novel version is a great way to do so. You would still be teaching the story but taking much less time to do so. If you want to teach about concise language or dialogue, I think a graphic novel is a great way to do so as well.

Blog #16: Let Kids Read What They Want

After hearing Regan’s talk about why YA literature is complex, I felt the need to explore my thoughts about it further. There wasn’t one specific quote I wanted to talk about, but I felt her presentation needed to be blogged about.

Honestly, I have probably read more YA novels this semester than all throughout high school. In middle school and high school, 90% of what we read are considered classics. I didn’t necessarily enjoy all of them, but I didn’t mind reading any except The Red Badge of Courage. I don’t think I will ever attempt reading that book again. When I decided to major in either English or English Language Arts my junior year of high school, I read classics because I thought that is what I should be reading. I struggled through these novels and felt smarter for it, but I rarely finished a book in the time I would finish a YA novel or related with any of the characters. The stories felt distant.

After reading an abundance of YA novels this semester, I’ve found myself relating to so many characters. My last blog post was entirely dedicated to how I empathized with Tillie Walden in her graphic novel, Spinning. I never had this experience with our required readings in school.

However, I do want to be clear I’m not saying that classics are bad or unbeneficial. I read The Great Gatsby over Christmas break my senior year of high school, and I still love the book. (It may be the only classic I can say that I love). I just don’t think we should tell students what they should be reading and enjoying. Regan pointed out in class how adults normally assume what teenagers like is bad. I did it as a teenager by forcing myself to read classics. YA literature is assumed to be lesser than other genres because of its target audience; however, the issues YA lit deals with make it anything but.

If students want to read classics, let them. If they want to read YA, let them. Reading is an experience. It should be fun and relaxing. Who are we to judge what students enjoy reading? Our obligation is to our students, not the classics.

Blog #15: Spinning

Over Thanksgiving break, I was extremely lazy.Looking back, it definitely would have been smart to do any homework. However, I did read a graphic novel and start a YA novel. I drove my little sister to practice on Wednesday and kept myself entertained by reading. My graphic novel of choice, and the subject of this blog, was Spinning by Tillie Walden. I wanted to read this graphic novel ever since it was book-talked in class. Dr. Ellington told the class it was about a figure skater who didn’t have a passion for the sport and that it was kind of “downer.” Although it was obvious this wasn’t one of her favorites, I immediately made a note of the book.

I think this is an excellent book for anyone overwhelmed by athletics. It didn’t convince me to quit my sport or persuade me to hate figure skating or athletics, but it told me that I’m not alone. On the inside tab, the first words are, “For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life.” This statement truly captures what it means to be an athlete. Your sport is your life. Free time is a luxury I haven’t had in many years.

I found myself relating to other issues Tillie mentions as well. She expresses her frustration with her parents not being as involved as other parents, and I can definitely relate to that. My parents are divorced, both remarried, and one set of parents is much more involved with my athletics than the other. Even though my dad and step-mom are more present now, I remember wanting so badly for them to care more than they did. To this day, I still get more nervous when they come to my games than when my mom and step-dad do because I feel the need to impress them. I also related to the fear she felt moving to a new place. I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous as I was to play with my new team at CSC. Throughout my freshman year, I remember missing my hometown and my old team so much like Tillie did.

This book may have been a bit of a downer at times, but it helped me realize that I’m not the only one who has had to wake up long before dawn to go to an event, who has felt seemingly permanent exhaustion due to a sport, who has been frustrated with coaches, who has wanted to perform better, or who has wanted to quit. The ending of my and Tillie’s story may be different, but Spinning helped me realize that I’m not the only one feeling overwhelmed by being an athlete, and I think it can do that for athletes of all ages.

Blog #14: The Paper Graders

Because I was not able to attend NCTE, I chose to learn from The Paper Graders blog. I chose this out of our list of options because grading is still somewhat of an enigma to me, but this blog was extremely helpful. I looked through all of the “#StopGrading Blog Series,” and it was probably the most  beneficial thing I have read on grading yet. Sarah Zerwin started this series by talking about the importance grading has. Students need good grades to get into college, and even some employers ask about them. Zerwin said, in Step Three: Hack your gradebook to make it the data collection tool that will actually inform your instruction, “The only problem is that this conversation is only about numbers, not about learning, or about what this student could do as a reader or writer, or about how the student may have grown during the semester. It is an argument about numbers, points, percentages, averages.” How are supposed to convince students that learning is more important than grades? In the first blog of this series, Zerwin points out that “grading has nothing to do with learning,” and she is completely right. Teachers and students are normally only focused on one of these, and it’s easy to guess which one.

Grades are important. We cannot just stop grading altogether; however, we can change the way we do it. Sarah Zerwin does her grading very differently than a traditional classroom. Her school requires her to have numbers in her gradebook on a semi-frequent basis for certain policies and athletic eligibility. For the majority of the semester, she grades only on completion. If students have completed all of their work on time, they will have a 100% in the class. Then, at the end of the semester, students will write her a letter saying which grade they think they earned, and they negotiate. This way, grades are more than just points. They actually mean something. Students will think about their grade in terms of their learning rather than in points. In her second blog post of the series, Zerwin said, “I agree with Penny Kittle–it’s not okay for a student to leave high school with an A in language arts without actually being a reader.”

Zerwin is very honest with administrators, students, and parents about her grading practices. She also included this link on her blog explaining her grading procedures which everyone has access to. Zerwin has done the research and is honest about her grading system. I learned so much from this blog, and I will definitely take this learning into my future classroom.

I also included this song which was recently posted because I thought it was funny 🙂

Blog #13: My Friend Dahmer

Last Thursday, I made a mistake (according to my bank account) during my trip to the Black Hills to visit my grandpa. He recently broken his femur from falling off of a horse. Don’t worry, he’s perfectly fine, and his doctors are impressed by the speed of his recovery. Afterwards, I drove into Rapid City to go shopping and get a haircut. One of my shopping stops was Books A Million. I hadn’t ever been there before, but I love going to new book stores (who doesn’t?). While I was browsing the seemingly endless bookshelves, I came upon the graphic novels and noticed a sign saying “Graphic Novels: Buy 3 Get 1 Free.” My mother’s daughter couldn’t resist a good deal. All of the books probably would have been cheaper on Amazon, but the excitement of the sale got the best of me.

Three of the books I bought are ones that have been book talked in class. The fourth one was My Friend Dahmer. A few months ago, I watched a movie trailer for the film that is soon to come out. At the beginning of the trailer, it said “Based on the graphic novel by Derf Backderf,” and I’ve wanted to read it since. This book follows the teenage life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer from a classmate’s (Derf Backderf’s) perspective. I read the entire book in one sitting, and if nothing else, it was sad. Really sad. In the beginning, Backderf says that he believes this tragedy could have been avoided if the adults in Jeffrey’s life had paid more attention to him. He was left completely alone for a time when his parents got a divorce, and he was constantly drunk at school without any teachers noticing. Backderf says repeatedly that when interviewing people for this book, teachers said they didn’t notice anything wrong with Dahmer. Throughout the book, Dahmer slowly became the killer he was to become. Dahmer did go to prom, but Backerf said, “For Dahmer, this universal teenage rite was an anemic grab at normalcy. But he couldn’t pull it off. He was too far gone” (160). I haven’t read too many graphic novels, so I didn’t know how the pictures compared to others, but I thought Backderf’s writing was beautiful and and truly encapsulated the tragedy that was Jeffrey Dahmer’s life.

I went into reading this book wondering what age group the novel would be appropriate for. It definitely isn’t appropriate for middle school. Jeffrey Dahmer mutilates animals and is sexually attracted to male corpses. Depending on the school, it may be allowed in a high school classroom. I do think that teachers should read this book though. Throughout the book, I kept wondering, “How did no one notice this kid?” Maybe Jeffrey Dahmer’s life would have been a lot different if the adults in his life showed him some compassion.

Blog #12: The Book Club Companion

This weekend, I finished my first professional development book of the semester. I chose to read The Book Club Companion: Fostering Strategic Readers in the Secondary Classroom by Cindy O’Donnel-Allen because I had previously chosen book clubs as the topic of my unit of focus. I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in anything like book clubs in high school, and it sounded like a fun unit to teach! O’Donnel-Allen is also teaching at CSU in Fort Collins (about an hour and a half from my hometown), so I thought that was cool too! Its short length was just an added bonus. I was excited to read this book because I was very excited about the idea of incorporating book clubs into my future classroom, but I needed help with the logistic planning of it.

I can’t attempt to discuss everything in this book, so I’ll point to what helped me the most. One was the part about book selection. O’Donnell-Allen discussed that she always wants to give her students power in their learning. However, certain restrictions (like budget) can limit these choices. She said, “To meet these constraints in my high school classroom, I selected five to six books that were varied enough to appeal to a wide range of kids yet had enough in common to cohere around a particular theme… Then I offered a brief book talk on each book and asked kids to list for me their top three choices” (4). She would then assign book clubs based on the students’ choices. I think this is a brilliant way to organize book choosing. She still gives students the opportunity to choose what they want to read, but she also organizes the class’s reading so they can study a similar topic even while reading different books.

The most helpful part of this book was probably the tools she included at the end. My favorite of these tools was a detailed list of book suggestions. She has different lists for different themes and possible author and genre studies for sixth through twelfth grade. She also includes example pages for a book club’s goals and ground rules, a record for discussion, and a sheet to take organized reading notes on. She has TEN different example sheets for reader response as well as tools for assessment including cultural studies projects and a censorship scenario assignment. I read and agreed with what she said throughout the book, but the tools at the end are what helped me the most in visualizing my unit in a logistic way. I will definitely include this book in my next amazon shipment, and I would definitely suggest it to anyone else interested in learning more about teaching book clubs!

Blog #11: Eleanor & Park

This morning I typed in “Blog #11:” and then stared at my computer for a few minutes. There wasn’t really any new material I had a strong desire to discuss from the last class period, and I have yet to read our assigned articles, but I am determined to stay on top of these blog posts for the second half of the semester. I glanced at Eleanor & Park sitting next to me. I had about fifty pages left and an hour to kill. Like any rational English major would, I decided to put off my other reading so I could finish the novel. Although part of my reason for doing this was to procrastinate reading Shakespeare articles, I can now book talk Eleanor & Park for this blog post.

Anyone close to me knows that I have an addiction to ordering books off of Amazon. My mom will frequently ask about my latest “shipment.” About a month ago, I ordered Eleanor & Park in one of my shipments because a coworker suggested it to me. After finishing my last novel, I flipped a coin to decide what book to read next. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus lost but is up next!

Eleanor & Park follows the journey of teenagers Eleanor, the bullied new redhead who is self-conscious of her weight (“Big Red”), and Park, a half-Asian, comic book loving boy. This book is beautifully written, and I know I would have loved it in middle school and high school. I’m a sucker for a good love story, but Rainbow Rowell also touches upon issues that many teenagers can relate to: divorced parents, bullying, abuse, mixed families, pressure to fit in, etc. And those are smaller details of the novel in comparison to the love story of Eleanor and Park.

To me, endings are everything, and I’m not easily impressed. I’m not satisfied by a predictable, sappy ending. I won’t give anything away, but I think Rainbow Rowell ended Eleanor & Park beautifully.